An essential tool in the creation and finishing of furniture, this 19th-century English ornamental lathe is an object of beauty in and of itself. The extraordinary machine was made by Holtzapffel & Co., established in London in 1794, whose lathes are considered among the most exquisite ever made. The firm exhibited and won medals for its ornamental lathes at several World’s Fairs, including the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the International Inventions Exhibition of 1885. The lathe’s mahogany bench, numbered 1906, is operated by a foot treadle and includes a “Sheperd’s Crook” style overhead spindle and a backboard toolbox containing various small tools.
A remarkable piece of machinery, the lathe is the ultimate carving tool capable of producing highly detailed objects of exquisite artistry. Set in motion by the large foot treadle, a complicated set of gears provides the power behind the machine. As the lathe turns, an artisan can use a variety of tools, such as gouges and chisels to shape the wood. The original, ingeniously designed slide rest allows one to move tools laterally along the lathe, while multiple brass gears in various sizes can change the rate of rotation. A machine such as this would have been a craftsman’s prized possession.
This ornamental lathe is accompanied by an extensive collection of wood cutting tools, including bits, cutters, gears, chunks and chisels, that allow for an endless array of decorative effects. The tools are contained within a matching 10-drawer triptych Victorian cabinet. Also included within the cabinet is a collection of Society of Ornamental Turners Bulletins.
Lathes have been used since the time of the ancient Egyptians, who first developed a two-person lathe around 1300 B.C.E. A skilled artisan could create everything from pedestals and legs for the finest furniture to simple household items like candlesticks on a well-designed lathe. Pedal-operated models like this were first introduced in the Middle Ages, replacing the hand-cranked model and freeing a craftsman’s hands to hold wood-turning tools. With the advent of the Industrial Age, lathes were motorized, which cut down on working time and cleared the way for assembly-line production.
Late 19th century
Lathe: 42 1/8" wide x 27 1/2" deep x 89" high
Cabinet: 47 7/8" wide x 25 5/8" deep x 44" highClick here to view a video of this item.